July 1, 2017

Murray Moss on Creating a Healthy Work-Life Balance in the Summer

June is supposed to be anticipated with excitement, isn’t it, what with being the gateway to summer —“bustin’ out all over,” as Nettie croons repeatedly in the musical Carousel?

My anticipation, however, has always been accompanied by a certain sense of dread. Metaphorically speaking, June has always been the start of Xanax Season for me.

Dread of what? Well, there are the festering childhood traumas that, as Orson Welles made quite clear in Citizen Kane, can be very difficult to entirely outgrow. My list of Welles-ian Rosebuds includes the beginning of baseball season (I throw like a girl), the beginning of bug season (I’m kind of entomo-phobic), the beginning of Outdoor Living (I used to be allergic to green grass). . .you get the picture. In general, Nature has never been a close friend. At home in the mid- ’50’s, we were among the first to have air conditioning, and, in truth, I have never seen the point in opening a window since.

All of the above childhood fears and phobias have mercifully diminished or disappeared with age. (Well, I still throw like a girl but am now rarely in a situation where that would come up, so it’s less and less a carry-forward dread.) The dread that leads the pack of June Dreads for me, as an adult, is the inevitable confrontation with leisure. June is the month when “leisure” is supposed to kick in, and that is an activity I am neither trained in nor good at.

It goes like this:

After half a year of Nature’s Bounty lying dormant, imagining that perhaps I won’t remember what comes next or that I am unfamiliar with what deciduous means, Mother N. sadistically busts a gut pulling out all the stops. In the blink of an eye, non-human life rears its ugly head, and things I had imagined were dead or, better yet, extinct, are suddenly shooting up, sprouting, crawling, creeping, dangling, and in general, as Nettie says, bustin’ out. And what do we do? Those who can—and there are many—exit the sanity of a sanitized, impermeable, climate-controlled interior and head for such places as beaches, gardens, greener pastures, and the company of people who, in these settings, are at leisure. In other words not working.

Here lies the rub. How can one not be working?

I’ve never been comfortable with that.

Franklin and I tried it once. We bought a “weekend” house in Orient Point—a cliffhanger built 4 inches from the drop to our private beach on Long Island Sound. For me, this shack from the ’50’s might as well have been part of the Bates Motel chain, giving me more anxiety than the specter of a customer from our gallery, Moss, sending in his non-English-speaking chauffeur to make a large, unauthorized return of special-order merchandise. Without going into it, the gist was that I couldn’t turn it off and on again that quickly, in the course of a weekend. Like many people I have known, I never stop working. And like many people I know, working never registers to me as “work.”

So even though I have a good excuse, I admit I don’t relax well. Never could. After months of functioning primarily as a human receptacle for the deposit of new ideas, new proposals, new visual language, my dance-card having been filled by a circuit of fairs—Cologne, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris, London, etc.—and then sifting through tons of paper brochures and digitized catalogs, the pace and stimulation far exceeding that produced by any street-sold Upper from the ’60’s, suddenly I’m supposed to be able to slowly down a Diet Coke on ice and sift through, what, sand?

That moment in the annual work calendar when suddenly you have time to catch up and get reacquainted with yourself, your loved ones, your friends, in spite of it being a cyclical occurrence and therefore something that you could/should have anticipated, paced yourself for, approached excitedly, nonetheless, inexplicably, arrives as unexpectedly as Hamlet’s father’s ghost. As the cacophony of Career receeds, a sudden quiet, a stillness confronts my still-racing heart. What do I do, now, that doesn’t qualify as work? How do I spend my “free” time?

You might say, “This should be the worst thing that ever happens to you, not knowing how to take advantage of leisure, not knowing how to explore and expand your experiences outside of work.

True, but the question remains, as does the dread, when June rolls around, and we all feel the urge to shout, “Stop the world—I want to get off.” What do we do when we “get off” the world? 

Follow Murray Moss on Instagram @murray_moss 

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